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TekSpek CPUs
Intel vPro

Intel vPro

Date issued:

The purpose of this TekSpek is to define Intel's vPro technology and why its collection of technologies is good for business users.

In the same way that Centrino technology defines Intel's vision for mobile computing hardware requirements, Intel's vPro technology platform amalgamates a collection of hardware requirements for better management of a business PC network.

In particular, Intel vPro technology seeks to add greater levels of manageability, security and performance to a business' existing PC network.

The hardware
Intel vPro technology requires that client PCs on a network be equipped with an Intel® Core™ 2 Duo E6000 series processor that has built-in Virtualisation Technology. Supporting the processor, a motherboard with a Q965 Express Chipset with an ICH8-DO [Digital Office] southbridge that features Intel's Active Management technology is also required. Finally, an Intel 82566DM Gigabit Ethernet Network Connection provides the necessary hardware for vPro to function with its full feature-set. Intel doesn't stipulate a particular operating system be used, although vPro has been validated to work with Microsoft Windows XP Professional, XP Professional 64-bit, and Windows 2000 Professional.

Talking first about manageability in relation to business PCs, Intel vPro, once installed, has built-in remote manageability ("Active Management Technology", or "AMT") that works via an embedded microcontroller they call the "Management Engine" and allows an administrator to wake a PC up from a remote console if it's not switched on - via out-of-band communication - install the various software updates deemed necessary, and then return the system(s) back to the original power/sleep state. This feature, obviously, can be carried out over multiple Intel vPro-supporting PCs at one time, and Intel AMT allows individual PCs to be isolated and updated without affecting the rest of the network.

Intel vPro's manageability features extend to gaining automated hardware and software inventories and the diagnosis of various problems without, in the main, requiring deskside visits or even switching the PC on. Single-system and/or network-wide updates can be carried out from the IT console. An example of increasing efficiency could entail updating all 500 connected PCs on your network with critical security patches, or, if a single system's operating system is damaged and does not boot, loading an image from an ISO held on a server.

Intel vPro's also big on business security. A technology Intel calls "System Defense" builds a flexible rules-based IPv4/IPv6 firewall into the chipset. It can be programmed remotely by the network administrator, or can even start to block or throttle traffic automatically in response to a threat. Intriguingly, the System Defense implementation allows the network administrator to continue access to the PC via AMT even if the firewall has completely disconnected the OS. Leveraging its Virtualisation Technology (VT) on both a hardware and software level, Intel's vPro platform allows administrators to run multiple hardware-isolated operating systems on a single partition.

One real-world implication and benefit of Virtualisation Technology is the ability to concurrently run an isolated partition that features, say, security software in addition to the main operating system. Virtualisation Technology ensures hardware-based partitioning so that this security solution is invisible to the general OS (it's run from a dedicated, isolated partition, of course) and therefore immune from attacks that attempt to disable security software on the main OS. In addition to this, the ME has its own nonvolatile memory (NVRAM), allowing platform events (and application events, assuming "compatible" applications) to be securely logged and subsequently read even if the PC is blue-screened or off. Further, Intel vPro allows an administrator to poll all the network-connected PCs for current software builds and push updates to the PCs that require them, even if the systems are initially switched off.

The Intel vPro platform requires the use of Intel's Core 2 Duo E6000-series processors. Its new architecture is designed to excel in multi-tasking scenarios and it supports the necessary Virtualisation Technology and 64-bit addressing as standard. Further, its wider dynamic execution core offers higher work-per-clock-cycle than Intel's previous generation Pentium 4, and its intelligent design offers greater performance with a lower power requirement, too. These strengths, Intel believes, offer its vPro technology a real performance benefit over other competing processors.

Industry support
The Intel vPro platform is currently supported by a number of leading companies that include, amongst others, Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, EDS, Atos Origin, and Altiris. Each company's studies have shown that implementing Intel vPro technology reduces total ownership costs via, in the main, reduced deskside visits and network-wide updating through a single IT console. A number of leading independent software vendors, some of which are noted above, are developing tools that complement and enhance the feature-set available through Intel's vPro technology.

Essentially, Intel vPro technology, much like Centrino and Viiv platforms, is a collection of technologies and tools, empowered by Intel-verified hardware, that form the basis for enabling business PCs with greater security, manageability and performance, with the added benefit of reducing total cost of ownership costs by leveraging the benefits of remote manageability. Of course, basic network management is built into most operating systems but the Intel vPro platform provides a dedicated set of technologies that should make administrator's lives easier.